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MLB Pitcher Prospect Graduates - Sophomore Fantasy Baseball Outlooks (NL East)

Spencer Strider fantasy baseball rankings waiver wire pickups draft sleepers starting pitchers

In the fourth installment of a six-part series focused on pitchers who exhausted rookie eligibility during the 2022 MLB season, I review how the pitching fundamentals of select 2023 National League East pitchers have evolved and use that information to forecast their MLB futures.

Fundamentals will be quantified using my Fielding- and Ballpark-Independent Outcomes (FaBIO) pitcher evaluation model.

Let us begin with individual analyses of five key National League East 2022 pitcher prospect graduates: Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, and MacKenzie Gore.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Quick Overview of FaBIO

An earlier RotoBaller article more fully explains the FaBIO methodology. Every plate appearance is sorted into one of 12 event-type bins (BB+HBP, K, IFFB, Pull OFFB, Center OFFB, Oppo OFFB, Pull LD, Center LD, Oppo LD, Pull GB, Center GB, Oppo GB) and the pitcher is charged with league's average runs value for that event type.

We eventually wind up with loads of fundamentals-rooted percentile ratings expressed on a 100 to 0 scale where 97 is plus-plus, 84 is plus, 50 is average, 16 is minus, and three is minus-minus.

The all-in-one Overall Rating (based on expected run avoidance per batter faced over all of that pitcher's batters faced) will be used primarily as filtering criteria with relatively more attention paid to how the three core sub-Ratings of Control (or CTL, based on BB+HBP per batters faced), Strikeout (or K, based on K per batters faced), and Batted Ball Profile (based on expected run avoidance per batted ball) combine to produce Overall Rating.

 

Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves

Spencer Strider fantasy baseball rankings waiver wire pickups draft sleepers starting pitchers

Tommy John surgery and the COVID outbreak limited Spencer Strider to 286 batters faced in three NCAA academic years but Braves saw enough early 2020 K lightning to sign the redshirt sophomore near slot in the 4th round that June. Strider would race through A and A+ and spend most of 2021 in AA, thereafter earning brief AAA and MLB cameos to explore postseason rostering as a K specialist RP.

Strider again profiled as a K-dependent, future RHRP over three 2022 MLB spring training appearances (34 BF, 11 BF/G: 25 CTL/86 K/3 BATTED BALL PROFILE) and opened 2022 in the MLB bullpen. Not much changed in long relief usage through mid-May (71 BF, 10 BF/G: 18 CTL/99 K/14 BATTED BALL PROFILE). A first MLB start came May 30 and Strider soon went on a shockingly strong yet still largely K-fueled run and by postseason's end he had the second-highest FaBIO OVERALL Rating among MLB SP qualifiers (trailing only Jacob deGrom). His 99 mark was earned mostly via triple plus K outcomes, CTL and OHB OVERALL not being as short as anticipated, and a later bias to OFFB contact (owed to his high-velocity 4-seamer playing just as fast) that offset a subpar combo of IFFB and LD Avoid (highest LD Avoid in any row of table is 49).

Strider seems surer to maintain plus-plus to better K outcomes ahead. A combination of higher effective fastball velocity and that he does not stand to be as extreme of a fly-baller as 2021 suggested should keep him relatively averse to longer OFFB and extra bases (ISO) on batted balls. CTL and LD Avoid likely stay weaker fundamentals, placing more one-bag-at-a-time traffic on the basepaths and limiting length into starts. In question would be his ability to maintain a fuller starter's workload (660 batters maybe tops in 2023?) over a complete MLB season while working at top-of-the-scale fastball velocity, with the September 24 oblique strain that effectively ended his 2022 Cinderella story being one representative example of what could go wrong.

Strider figures to be at least slightly overvalued in 2023 redraft leagues per the unlikeliness of immediately matching or beating the 2022 MLB SP debut outcomes. Dynasty players should hold onto him tightly as strikeouts at his frequency are coveted and even if eventually a reliever again he will deliver much value in that role.

 

Bryce Elder, Atlanta Braves

Bryce Elder projects as a groundball-leaning weak-contact-first, inning-eater workhorse variety of MLB starter. Half minus CTL, average K, plus BATTED BALL PROFILE seems about right for a 2023 to 2024 MLB season where the mid-rotation starter candidate should slot nicely as the SP4 else SP5 on a deeper Braves staff.

 

A batted ball profile over K+CTL bias limits the 2023 redraft league appeal of Elder, who may well open the season in AAA again with three option years on reserve. Yet higher projected volumes of batters faced on a perennial league-championship-contender coupled with better hit and extra-base-hit avoidance should gradually boost his fantasy stock as MLB experience is accrued. Dynasty players should reserve a roster spot for Elder in the organization now as he stands to get the starter innings that fellow weak-contact-inducing righty and sooner-a-free-agent Michael Soroka will not over the next several seasons.

 

Edward Cabrera, Miami Marlins

Edward Cabrera - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

After the first three pro seasons, Edward Cabrera hardly seemed an MLB SP prospect with neither a K Rating over 40 nor a BATTED BALL PROFILE Rating over 14. Then K soared to plus-plus in a 2019 season split somewhat evenly between A+ and AA. Batted ball profile has also improved since then as evidenced by that four of six 2021-2022 BATTED BALL PROFILE Ratings in the table are plus to plus-plus (the big exception is a 7 in the 120-batter 2021 MLB debut that was owed to IFFB and LD Avoid each nearly bottoming out).

While a pair of zero CTL Ratings in two MLB seasons to date may not inspire confidence in a long-term starter future his strikeout and batted ball out-generation fundamentals are more than robust enough to overpower minus control. For now he largely just needs to avoid walking too many batters in a given early inning of a start that would require a quick hook and tax his skipper's bullpen (and patience). Ideally a year to two ahead Cabrera sports a CTL Rating in the full to half minus range, in which case he likely rates in the neighborhood of a plus OVERALL MLB SP. For 2023 expect CTL and K to each rise at least a few ticks versus 2022 MLB though BATTED BALL PROFILE should fall but perhaps stay plus (LD Avoid likely drops some from 95). Dynasty owners should find comfort in very loud out-generation fundamentals that would stand to still pay big dividends even if control else injury later relegated Cabrera to short relief.

 

Braxton Garrett, Miami Marlins

Braxton Garrett - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Prospects, Waiver Wire

Braxton Garrett made only four appearances in his first three pro seasons, a fate owed to a balky elbow that eventually required Tommy John surgery. In a mostly A+ 2019 return, he rated plus at K and average at BATTED BALL PROFILE, the latter despite a beyond plus GB Rating. Garrett was summoned from the Marlins' alternate site for an end-of-2020 two-start MLB debut that registered a 79 OVERALL owed far more to BATTED BALL PROFILE and K than CTL. He was shuttled to and from MLB in 2021 earning solidly average to slightly better results across the board in AAA but very struggling while in MLB and more so at CTL and BATTED BALL PROFILE.

Versus 2021 AAA Garrett flashed improved CTL and GB Ratings in 2022 AAA before spending most all of the rest of 2022 in MLB where almost every FaBIO Rating was safely black to nearly green (30 to 80 range). A reasonable projection for 2023 MLB would be almost average CTL, average to half plus K, half plus BATTED BALL PROFILE casting him as a nearly half plus OVERALL SP. Daily fantasy players else lineup adjusters should note that similarly forward 2022 OHB/SHB splits in MiLB and MLB have Garrett faring better versus 2023 lineups that feature at least a few lefthanded batters. Do not be surprised if the solid yet unspectacular Garrett gets 2023 MLB rotation priority over 2021 All-Star rookie Trevor Rogers, as Garrett (Cabrera, too) is down to a final option year (well worth preserving, if at all possible) while Rogers has three to burn after posting poor 2022 fundamentals (25 OVERALL, 21 CTL/48 K/14 BATTED BALL PROFILE).

 

MacKenzie Gore, Washington Nationals

The FaBIO Ratings table below makes it easy to understand why MacKenzie Gore was ranked among the best pitching prospects in baseball from his 2017 post-draft debut through the start of 2020 spring training. A forecast MLB debut during the reimagined COVID season of 2020 never materialized due to mechanical struggles at the Padres alternate site. A larger 54-batter sample of 2021 MLB Spring Training game work affirmed that the CTL+K outcomes were still off (52BF, 10 BF/G: 28 OVERALL, 7 CTL/19 K/74 BATTED BALL PROFILE) and they continued to lag well behind BATTED BALL PROFILE over six AAA starts to begin that 2021 season. Between a recurrence of blister problems plus some delivery revamping Gore spent the next two months in extended spring training before beginning a rookie-level to A+ to AA to Arizona Fall League return to game action in which his FaBIO OVERALL Ratings gradually fell from plus-plus to full minus.

Stronger 2022 MLB Spring Training game fundamentals (47 BF, 12BF/G: 82 OVERALL, 70 CTL/94 K/37 BATTED BALL PROFILE) renewed optimism and a scoreless 5-inning AAA opener featuring seven strikeouts versus zero walks won Gore an April 15 MLB debut start. After a solid handful of starts the CTL+K wheels gradually came off again from earlier June through a July 26 injured list trip attributed to elbow inflammation. A week after the injured listing Gore went to Washington, D.C., as one-sixth of the trade return for Juan Soto and Josh Bell. He resurfaced in September for four AAA starts but never saw MLB action with the Nationals.

Gore is unlikely to re-emerge as a K standout given what has transpired since 2020. The most unexpected 2022 MLB debut FaBIO mark was the 1 LD Avoid, as every other row of the table aside from one 41-batter data sample features a rather green mark at that metric. The easier path to a high LD Avoid is the relative ground-baller one seen at every MiLB stop of 2021 and 2022; should he remain a relative fly-baller like in 2022 MLB he must fill the IFFB and LD Avoid columns rather fully to BATTED BALL PROFILE well, just as he did back in 2018 and 2019. A reasonable longer-term MLB SP projection for Gore would be half minus CTL, average to half plus K, average to full plus BATTED BALL PROFILE and such would cast him in the SP3 to fringe SP2 range.

Beyond the extra elbow risk, 2023 sets up as a year to avoid fantasy active-rostering Gore as he seems surer to be force-fed too many MLB batters too soon in part due to the Nationals being so short on viable starting alternatives. Unlike recent Padres' teams that were highly competitive but also very short on minor league MLB-caliber SP options, the 2023 Nationals are not good enough to justify overexposing Gore or any other unready young starter (see Ryan Weathers, too) to MLB batters. Gore, who has only faced 131 AA and 167 AAA batters to date and still has three option years in the tank, should be challenged to post and hold stronger all-around AAA fundamentals over a half dozen or more weeks before his next stint in an MLB rotation.

Other NL East Pitcher Prospect Graduates

Early FaBIO returns have CTL-first K+IFFB LHRP Dylan Lee carving out a lengthier career as a quality 7th- to 8th-inning reliever with run and walk avoidance plus hold value, and still more so if he can LD Avoid nearer to plus '22 and '21 AAA marks.

Cristopher Sanchez resembles teammate Ranger Suarez as a lefthanded GB-leaning weak contact inducer; expect the thin-on-starters Phillies to pivot Sanchez between RP and SP use in MLB for the duration of 2023 to preserve his final option year; 2024 shorter RP relegation just might boost CTL, K, and Oppo-Handed Batters outcomes enough to make Sanchez a leverageable weapon. Out-of-options Stephen Nogosek delivered some CTL+IFFB+LD Avoid value to the Mets in 2022 with reverse OHB/SHB splits nearly opposite the 2022 AAA ones.

Marlins signed 2021 independent league RHRP Huascar Brazoban, who last appeared in affiliated minor league ball in 2017, off a strong Dominican Winter League showing; the 32-year-old journeyman might push double-digit volumes of holds if not also saves if he can get his CTL and Opposite-Handed Batters Overall Ratings to better resemble the 2022 AAA marks than the 2022 MLB ones did. LHRP Andrew Nardi found more whiffs by shifting to a four-seamers-up flyball approach in 2022; to OVERALL well again ahead requires the Pull-OFFB-vulnerable lefty to decently avoid walks (CTL) plus singles (LD Avoid) around the K, IFFB, and OFFB. Former top LHSP prospect A.J. Puk must post better Oppo-Handed Batters outcomes sooner to exceed a lower-leverage middle relief future.

Cory Abbott has struggled to convert IFFB+LD Avoid success into avoiding hits (AVG) on batted balls and has also come up short in translating AAA K success to MLB; now down to one option year, Abbott would ideally be used as a short RP exclusively during the early months of 2023 MLB in a last-ditch effort to optimize MLB outcomes. Though still very young by AAA/MLB SP standards one-option-yeared Joan Adon should mostly be deployed as a 2023 MLB long RP in search of improved CTL, K, and (what could be half to full plus) BATTED BALL PROFILE Ratings.



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